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  • Writer's pictureSusie

Lessons I learnt painting after wallpaper removal

Updated: Aug 15, 2020

Painting over 30year old wallpaper didn't fix things, so I removed the wallpaper with ease, using NO chemicals, NO scourer and NO steamer, before painting the wall to PERFECTION! Here's how you can do the same, without making the same BIG mistake I did.

Tools:Scraper, spray bottle, hot water, plastic tarp, black sacks, old cloths, dust mask, sandpaper, sanding block/pole, primer, topcoat, painting tools, 80s soundtrack

Cliff notes:Pull off top layer dry. Spray hot water onto glue layer. Wait 10 mins. Scrape off. Let walls dry. Putty holes. Sand. Apply primer. Apply two layers of topcoat


Ugh. 80s wallpaper. So patterned, so ugly & so shiny! What are your options?

1) Get in a professional painter/decorator. In an ideal world, yes, but they're not cheap and most of this job is menial work and you're free labour! Plus you have to wait for them. As you're reading this, I suggest you have it in mind to doityourself, probably because you've been staring at those walls for months and now you just want to get at it TODAY, am I right? This makes you my kind of person! Who's good at waiting anyway.

2) Paint straight over it as I did initially. This can actually work IF the edges are still glued tight and the corners have not wrinkled, or if they have, but the rebel in you doesn't care. This is definitely the fastest way to cover it and wallpaper will take a couple of layers of paint without complaint, but, when I did this (also painting the trim) yes, it looked much better overall, but I still had some serious problems, such as:

- The colour I used, a seafog grey, had turned out much colder than I wanted and made the room cold, small and unwelcoming. Not good for a guest room! I was concerned that if I re-painted another colour over then it might be too heavy for the wallpaper.

- The edges were still peeling only now they stood out a lot more as before the pattern kind of confused your eyes into not seeing it. There are products that can re-seal those edges but I have no experience with them and reviews didn't look too hot.

- Before painting I had used putty on the many pin holes someone had made putting up a gazillion pictures and this showed through my paint. I did sand it, maybe not enough, but I did do it. This left shiny marks that winked at you when the sun hit the walls and tbh, looked bloody awful.

3) Remove wallpaper and put up new wallpaper. I have wallpapered before, and it's not as bad as you think, but a whole room? With cutting out etc? Not a chance.

4) Remove wallpaper and then paint. It's the best option, but there's no escaping it is a tedious pain. However, I'll show you how it's maybe not as difficult or as time consuming as you might think.

“Adapt your scraper before you start by sanding off the sharp edges. A quick touch with an orbital sander will do this or manual sanding. This will stop gouging into the wall which will need repairing and will make your work much faster.”

Step by step

The main concern is what state the bare walls underneath are in. Here in NZ, internal walls are lined with GIB boards (in Oz they're called Gyprock, in the UK it's drywall) so worst case, they might need to be relined and stopped. I'm willing to unearth that disaster because after all, if they're in such a poor state and the wallpaper is what's keeping them upright, then I want to know about it!

Previously I've done this the traditional way by scouring wallpaper then using a steamer so believe me when I say, this method is MUCH tidier AND easier. Plus NO chemicals or a sauna. Here's how:

Think of wallpaper as two layered. The top comes off dry whilst the under layer needs wetting as this contains the glue.

To start, simply find an edge and peel off. Do this 'dry' (you don't need to be dry, you can certainly do this with a glass of wine in one hand). Do nothing to the wall before you start. NO scouring, NO steaming, NO water, NO chemicals. Wallpaper has two layers and this gets rid of the topcoat only. If you pull upwards, you may be lucky and get whole sheets off in one go. Don't leave any of this top layer on, not even little sections.

The next layer is the glue removal and needs wetting for removal, so cover flooring with something plastic like a tarp and not just cloth covers. Fill spray bottle with really hot water and spray liberally onto glue, ensuring all areas are wet. Do not soak to the point of running water; it doesn't need it. A towel at the base can collect the excess.

You will soon see bubbles. Leave it to work for 5/10 mins, but don't wet a whole wall and then disappear as you need to scrape when wet. Pick 3 sections at a time, not the whole wall.

My preferred method was to start 1/3 way up the wall, scraping up 50cms, then do the alongside pieces, then pull off.

Think kelp forest!

Then pull off and dispose. If you work upwards it seems easier. Then do the bottom 1/3. Repeat. Repeat. Drink. Repeat. Drink. Re-wet if needed (both your glass and the wall).

This should get all the glue off but take care to go back over missed areas, especially around trim. Sanding later will not remove them.

Leave to dry. Scrape putty into all dents/holes and then carefully wipe away the excess putty with a wet cloth before it hardens so there's less to sand later.

You can see how my walls had never been painted before the wallpaper so those white marks are the GIB stopping (taped then plastered, see here for more info). These had been sanded already so only needed a little at the edges. Walls were in great condition, thankfully!

Once putty is dry, put your dust mask on and sand, sand, sand. If you find any pieces of glue paper, get the hot water back out as sanding will not shift them and they will show up as bumps under your paint. Then sand like you've never sanded before. It's tedious but necessary. Run your hand across to find rough areas. Do some squats as you go and call it your workout. The smoother the wall, the better your paint job.

Use a sanding block on a pole. This allows you to stand back from the wall and really put some power into it. Get one that goes in different directions i.e. vertical for alongside window trim. You will really cover more areas faster.

Brush off the walls with a brush, as well as all the trim, and vacuum floor. Once prep work is done, it's primer time.

Do NOT use water-based primer!

This is what I did first time around, and it will be disastrous, like this:

I painted one whole wall before I stopped (no, I wasn't drinking) because I thought the problem would go away as the paint dried. I thought it was just the new paint roller, then blamed it on using older primer from an open can, before I researched and discovered what it actually was.

Water-based primer will re-activate the wallpaper glue even after a sh*t load of sanding, making the primer separate from the wall in rough patches

This mistake caused me a big delay (and some tears of frustration) as I had to wait for it to dry before doing an extreme amount of re-sanding as every single one of those bubbles/trenches created a rough bump. Believe me, you do not want to make this mistake!

I even tried the orbital sander on it which didn't do a thing. But fear not, it came good eventually.

Apply oil-based primer

Apply one coat of oil-based primer all round the room (yes, it was enough to mostly cover the mess wall).

Two coats of topcoat and the walls (including the mess wall) have come up amazing. This is the final result (the trim does not seem to photograph well, but it is finished!):

I will add when this room is dressed with curtains, bedspread, pictures etc.

Yet to complete: change/adapt light fixture, replace horrid old green carpet and door knobs.

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